CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
Keating rains on Kevin Rudd's parade
, June 23, 2007
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating relished the chance recently to give everyone a spray.Paul Keating's intermittent forays into federal politics are always interesting, succeeding in warming the hearts of his loyal fans and reminding his enemies just how lethal his tongue used to be.
The former Prime Minister's recent interview on ABC television's Lateline
program (June 7) was an entertaining performance and, unlike other recent angry speeches and interviews, he appeared to relish the chance to give everyone and anyone a spray.
Asked if he thought he had set the cat amongst the pigeons, Keating replied with a straight face: "What cat amongst what pigeons?"
During the interview, Mr Keating did a classic demolition job on old enemies such as former national secretary Gary Gray and newly appointed chief-of-staff to Kevin Rudd, David Epstein.
He also dismissed Peter Costello's decade as Treasurer as riding entirely on his own economic reforms.
"I mean, the fact is ... when I started work ... Australia was in the industrial age. I was one of the people that ushered into Australia the post-industrial age," Mr Keating said without a skerrick of modesty.Diatribe
Up to this point Mr Keating's diatribe and historical revisionism were entirely predictable.
But what came next was quite a serious critique of Labor's deputy leader and industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard and the union movement which he described as incompetent and "dying on the vine".
Asked how Labor's key frontbencher was performing, Mr Keating replied: "Not very well. Not very well."
Mr Keating said Ms Gillard's IR proposals would send industrial relations reform backwards.
"She hasn't got it all wrong, but she doesn't quite understand," he said.
Mr Keating said Ms Gillard does not yet comprehend the difference between "the old rigid system of compulsory arbitration and comparative wages" and the enterprise bargaining system he introduced in 1993.
He feared Labor under Ms Gillard's direction would return Australia to that rigid old system.
Labor's only response in the days after Mr Keating's interview was to dismiss the former leader as a "colourful character", but it raises the most serious doubts to date about Mr Rudd's decision to put Ms Gillard in charge of the key policy area in the coming campaign.
However, Mr Keating said there was no going back to the centralised system.
"Howard put the match under the commission. That's gone. That structure's finished.
"One of the reasons why real wages are falling, it's not simply because the Government is the kind of show it is; it's because the unions are just not much good at what they do these days.
"The unions are just ineffective at getting real wage increases for working people. They've gone to seed, the unions. This straw man thing, we'll have the union bosses. Try and find one. Try and find one that can."
But Mr Keating's criticisms were not just focussed on his own side of politics.
He also honed in on the Howard Government's WorkChoices laws, the new Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), and the Government's discrimination against collective bargaining in particular.
He may also have explained concisely why the Government may not be realising any political benefits from the current boom that they should be - because ordinary workers are not getting their fair share of profits.
"The great lie of the Howard Government, in respect of workplace changes, (is) they are simply a set of arrangements to keep unions out of workplaces," he said.
"They've got nothing to do with productivity, and the quicker we move away from that kind of discriminatory structure to a truly trust-based cooperative sharing of work and workloads, then we get back to reasonable levels of productivity and, again, reasonable rates of growth in real wages.
"It's no accident that the wage share in the economy has gone down, and the profit share in the last four years has gone up because wages are now in real terms … declining."
He also claimed business would "rue the day" they ever heard of WorkChoices because it effectively takes away the right to collectively bargain - which he argues is the key to productivity gains.
Mr Keating argued that there should be no positive discrimination against collective bargaining or the ability of a union to represent people as there is currently under WorkChoices.
"AWAs, as they are now, have to be scrapped because they have a bias against the right of an individual to talk to another individual about their wages," he said.
"I mean, show me any democracy worth having and I'll show you one where people can meet freely and talk about conditions at work and be represented by a union.
"That's the poison in the AWA. That's the only point of the AWA. It's got to go."
It was a memorable performance and one which should make both sides of politics think long and hard.